What Do Live Chat, Pickles & Coupons Share? They're Best Practices

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Live chat, a service promise involving pickles, and member coupons highlighted the first Best Practices Awards from the CUNA Operations, Sales and Service Council.

The CUNA OpSS Council recognized a first place winner in Spokane (Wash.) Teachers Credit Union, along with two merit award winners-Bay Gulf Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., and Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU in Aberdeen, Md.

Patsy Gayda, STCU's director of branches, said the $730-million credit union began offering live chat as an additional online member service option three years ago. When the program first started, Gayda said security was an issue, and only 94 live chats were recorded each month. Today, members initiate 500 live chats per month, and the number is growing steadily.

"Members see live chat as simple, convenient and private," she said. "It is available during business hours, and members discuss the same issues as on the phone, such as bill pay and checking."

Spokane Teachers regularly surveys members who use the live chat function and has found 97% are very satisfied. Gayda said there is a "learning curve" for the staff. The chat transcripts are reviewed carefully and used as a learning tool for member service reps.

Live chat has proved popular with younger members, but it has not yet displaced telephone calls-STCU's call center continues to receive 26,000 calls per month. Gayda said the most cost-effective member contact option continues to be e-mail, but the credit union is pleased with member response.

"Live chat has been very positive for us. It is a great service to offer, and as the technology gets better and our employees get better, it improves. We have to determine how much time is too much time. Not everyone is set up to be a live chat employee."

Bay Gulf CU's vice president of sales and service, Dominic Feroleto, said his credit union was inspired by the "pickle service incident" at a Farrell's restaurant. A regular customer became irate when told he would be charged 75 cents for a side of pickles after years of getting an extra pickle on his hamburger for free. This led owner Bob Farrell to release a series of customer service books and videos entitled, "Give 'Em the Pickle."

"We wanted to make a service center strategy change," Feroleto recalled. "We got employees involved by selecting one person from each department for a committee."

The committee crafted posters listing service standards to hang in all branches. It also created a "Monday Message" e-mail that compiled compliments received from members as a morale booster.

This was a way to recognize our staff, and it has been very successful," he said.

Feroleto said Bay Gulf CU learned something from the service center upgrade: personal development is important. He said satisfaction surveys are "way up," as is the number of compliment letters, phone calls and e-mails from members.

"Overall, the project was very successful. We invited the same committee members to participate in our next project-improvement of our phone service."

Welcoming New Members

Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU wanted to increase the number of products, services and consumer loan activity generated within 90 days of a new membership opening, so it created a new member process, said Susan Kemen, vice president of operations. The program includes phone calls, letters and a sheet of coupons. Kemen, who credited Susan Stover, APGFCU's director of sales, with the submission of the CU's best practices entry, said management examined what was happening at the time members opened accounts and found there was "not a lot of dialogue or relationship building." "We worked on an ongoing follow up plan to ensure this would change," she said.

APGFCU created an account opening plan, which began with a credit scoring decision process. The credit union instituted a "same day service, when possible" policy. Stover visited all branches to coach frontline employees on sales techniques. And, a special emphasis was placed on delivering coupons to members and encouraging use within the first 60 days of new membership.

The coupons are good for rewards, such as a $25 deposit for referring a new member 18 year or older, a 1% cash rebate for transferring balances to an APGFCU credit card, free bill pay when the member signs up for online banking (bill pay currently incurs a $5 monthly fee), and $50 towards a home equity loan of $5,000 or more.

Two days after the new member joins, the follow-up plan is commenced. He or she receives a thank you letter in the mail. Two weeks later, the first of three member care calls is placed. "This is not a sales call," she said. "We ask the member if he or she has any questions." Further member care calls are made at two months and four months to ensure the member keeps the CU in mind, said Kemen.

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